Reporting Ian Schwartz
SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — One look at Moore, Okla., from above and it was evident something with tremendous power ripped through the area.
Tom Dolan saw the destruction unfold on TV and immediately knew Moore was dealing with a monster—an EF-5 tornado, the highest ranking a twister can have.
For years he’s chased twisters in Tornado Alley.
“A lot of these storms go up to 40,000 feet in height. It’s interesting to see how they develop, how rapidly they develop and to follow them along their path.”
With a computer program, Tom takes a 3-D look inside the storm that stretches nearly 10 miles in the air. He plans to visit the site of the tornado and compare the images to the damage he sees on the ground, since radar only tells part of the story.
“The earth is curved, so the radar beam shoots above the ground,” he said, “so in a sense the radars are blind closest to the ground where these tornadoes are occurring.”
The radar image itself is a deadly tornado, but Tom says its massive 10-mile-tall formation holds a certain beauty to it.
“When you start blending them together, you get a lot of pastel colors. It’s a form of art as well as science.”
With the Moore tornado, Tom took a close look at pink colors that represent debris balls. Those are when the radar beam hits and picks up on pieces of trees and homes thrown thousands of feet in the air to swirl round in 200 mile-per-hour winds.
“Anytime you see that happening live, it’s kind of heartbreaking because you know that’s where people are hiding and residing in the storm.”
Tom hopes his radar renderings can also save lives. He publishes them online and says the 3-D look will hopefully give people a better idea of the massive storm heading their way.
“If you could actually see at nighttime, or a rain-wrapped storm, you start taking the right response and you take them seriously when you need to.”